Would law open shore properties to public access?

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 4/2/20

By JOHN HOWELL A bill introduced to clarify access to beaches could have an impact on the hundreds of homeowners on Warwick's 39 miles of shoreline. The measure would establish a 10-foot right of way from the high tide water mark on shoreline

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Would law open shore properties to public access?

Posted

A bill introduced to clarify access to beaches could have an impact on the hundreds of homeowners on Warwick’s 39 miles of shoreline.

The measure would establish a 10-foot right of way from the high tide water mark on shoreline properties.

Concerns over the legislation introduced by Sens. Dennis Algiere of Westerly and V. Susan Sosnowski were raised at a recent Conimicut Village Association meeting. The bill’s origin is in the House, where House Minority leader Blake Filippi introduced legislation to what he sees as an ongoing issue that is getting worse.

Last summer’s arrest of Scott Keeley, a Charlestown resident who was collecting seaweed on a South Kingstown Beach made headlines, but is not the sole reason for the bill, says Filippi. Keeley was confronted by a private security guard hired by beachfront property owners and informed he was trespassing after sitting down on the beach. According to reports, Keeley said he had the right to walk the beach, even reading the passage from the Rhode Island Constitution giving him that right. The guard called South Kingstown police who arrested Keeley after he stood up but lingered during his collection of seaweed.

Keeley brought suit against South Kingstown in federal court, an action that was settled for $25,000. Keeley told the news media he would use the money in his fight to increase shoreline access.

In an interview, association president Ginny Barham, whose waterfront property is faced with stone rip-rap to protect it from high water and erosion, questioned whether the bill if passed would allow people to walk across her lawn within a short distance of her home. At low tide there is ample room to walk on the beach. However, at high tide the water covers a portion of the protective rip-rap. The same is true for her neighbors with sea walls. At high tide the water can be more than 3 feet deep at the base of those walls.

The situation is not unique to Conimicut. Property owners in Pawtuxet, Gaspee, Highland Beach, Warwick Neck, Bayside, Nausauket, Oakland Beach, Apponaug, Chipowenoxet and Potowomut could likewise be impacted.

“We all believe in public access to beaches,” said Barham, “but are you telling me I no longer have the right to tell people to get off my lawn?”

With a right-of-way to the water beside her property she has had people walk on her land even though it is clearly not part of the access. Part of the problem, she feels, is that there is no demarcation of private property. Fences and seawalls line many of the Conimicut accesses to the water, but even so people walk along seawalls and across lawns, especially during high tides.

In an interview last week, Filippi said he is looking to clarify the law that refers to the mean high tide line as the point where

Filippi dismissed the concerns raised by Conimicut residents. Asked about the high tide line and how it applies to seawalls and other shoreline barriers, he said the bill is directed at a beach or rocky shoreline. “There’s no protection here (for people seeking to walk on seawalls and on private property behind them),” he said.

A one-line synopsis of the senate bill reads, “Provides that no person be prosecuted for fishing, gathering seaweed, swimming or passage along the sandy or rocky shoreline within ten feet (10') of the most recent high tide line.”

John Paul, who also attended the village meeting and lives on the water is sympathetic to offering access to the beach although, as he points out, he wouldn’t want fisherman camped out in his front yard.

“I have always liked the water. It’s a joy for me,” said Paul. He remembers the Jersey shore where one had to pay a fee to park and access the beach and properties on the shoreline are posted with no trespassing signs.

“That always bothers me,” he said.

Paul said he is fortunate to live on the water as well as in a community where the public has access to the water. The 10-feet from the high water mark, however, raises issues. On the one hand he can foresee certain high tides where people may need to cross his yard to get to the right-of-way. He is good with that as long as it doesn’t become an established thoroughfare.

“People are not welcome to fish from my property,” he said.

Paul has assumed the upkeep of the right-of-way adjoining his property. When he moved to Conimicut in 1995 he said the right-of-way was a hangout where there were frequent parties running late at night. The place was littered with bottles, cans and debris.

He said that has changed. People are respectful of the right-of-way and his property.

Comments

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John Stark

"10 feet of the most recent high tide line" for some homeowners would allow strangers to walk across their patio at whenever the mood strikes. And it will not take long for the first lawsuit when a walker falls and is injured on a seawall. Mean high tide as the line of demarcation has worked fine for 250 years. Leave it alone.

Thursday, April 2
Happy

This one has always bothered me.

I walk the shoreline in Warwick a lot. A lot of homeowners are very aggressive that they own the beach and no one is allowed, it is their personal playground that they pay taxes for.

It is because of this aggressive approach I would support any legislation that would clearly allow the 10' mean from the high water to be used by John Q. Public. To include fishing, camping, swimming etc.

They don't own the ocean as they think they do.

Maybe they need to be challenged by a few lawsuits like S.K.?

Thursday, April 2
justanidiot

sorry mr stark, but the mean high water line was a big punt because nobody ever wants to really come up with a measurable solution. my solution is to draw a line all around the coast and let anyone do anything between the line and the water. and if they step over the line, property owners would have the right to shoot them down like dirty dogs.

Thursday, April 2
davebarry

The law has worked since its inception. Since no patrolman can divine the 'mean high tide' line, you must allow anyone to walk on the beach. Not someones lawn or wall, but the beach. If the tide is too high, they cannot trespass. The RI constitution gives access to all citizens to the shore. That is why the man won his suit in SK. The arresting officer was not informed or foolish.

Thursday, April 2
Warwick Resident_1998

If you built a seawall and it keeps the water from reaching the mean high tide mark then you should expect people to walk where the mean high tide mark would naturally be.

Sorry if you thought it was your own little private section but the people have a right to the shoreline. In theory I should be able to walk all of the shoreline in the state without there being any obstructions.

Thursday, April 2
Ben Dover

Perhaps the august members of the general assembly should read Article I, sections 16 and 17 of our Constitution as well as the Keeley decision in federal court before opening a Pandora's box. Meanwhile, there is the small matters of borrowing $300M approved by 4 members of the GA, which raises some serious Constitutional issues, not to mention this whole issue of the pandemic...In short, get your damn priorities in order. This issue will keep until next year when it can be fully vetted and the public can be heard, Not 3 months before adjournment and a rush for the door.

Thursday, April 2
John Stark

Happy, "very aggressive" homeowners do not necessitate a change in the law. Quite simply, they are wrong. And I've experienced them, too. But do you you really think that walking across their yard or patio, or camping and fishing on their property with apparent impunity is going to make them LESS aggressive?!

idiot, your first sentence was reasonable. Then you became, well.......

Thursday, April 2
ThatGuyInRI

The aforementioned Artilcle I Section 17 of the Rhode Island Constitution

Section 17. Fishery rights — Shore privileges — Preservation of natural resources.

The people shall continue to enjoy and freely exercise all the rights of fishery, and the privileges of the shore, to which they have been heretofore entitled under the charter and usages of this state, including but not limited to fishing from the shore, the gathering of seaweed, leaving the shore to swim in the sea and passage along the shore; and they shall be secure in their rights to the use and enjoyment of the natural resources of the state with due regard for the preservation of their values; and it shall be the duty of the general assembly to provide for the conservation of the air, land, water, plant, animal, mineral and other natural resources of the state, and to adopt all means necessary and proper by law to protect the natural environment of the people of the state by providing adequate resource planning for the control and regulation of the use of the natural resources of the state and for the preservation, regeneration and restoration of the natural environment of the state.

Friday, April 3
Patient Man

Some of the beachfront properties in Warwick will pretty much always have have a high tide line within 10 feet of their lawn. Giving people the legal right to trespass on peoples property will lose in court. Use the last existing property survey as the standard. If people think the mean high tide line has materially moved they're free to pay for a survey. The survey should have to be filed with the CRMC before it is conducted. That way regardless of the results the new survey would become the standard.

I expect more from Blake Filippi.

Friday, April 3
Patient Man

Filippi dismissed the concerns raised by Conimicut residents. Asked about the high tide line and how it applies to seawalls and other shoreline barriers, he said the bill is directed at a beach or rocky shoreline. “There’s no protection here (for people seeking to walk on seawalls and on private property behind them),” he said

But it does give people the right to trespass on private property on the bay side of seawalls & other shoreline barriers. Maybe, just maybe the property owner would like to use their private property instead of strangers. This law is theft.

Friday, April 3
wwkvoter

theft? to allow what we always had in the ri constitution? it says water side of the seawall/barriers. that seems pretty fair compromise.

Friday, April 3
Happy

John Stark, I have to beg to differ that the mean high tide line has worked for 250 years.

Just looking at the picture above clearly shows a violation by an owner/contractor who clearly wanted to claim additional waterfront property for their own personal use.

Before those rocks and additional fill was put there, clearly in violation of the high tide mark, the city building inspector and DEM should have both had to sign off before it was built! They snuck it in and everyone turned their head.

That means that John Q. Public has lost the right to walk the shoreline at high tide!

Even that fence should be pushed back to allow access.

Saturday, April 4
Patient Man

wwkvoter,

The Constitution states the mean high tide line is the property line. Obviously many tides will be on the landward side. Allowing people to use 10 feet on the landward side of the mean high tide line is stealing the property from the homeowner. It's pretty clearly illegal.

Sunday, April 5
cpcandy

This is the problem by allowing hardened structures on the beach in the first place to protect private properties.

Sea walls, geotubes and cubes, rocks,Etc. All keep the ocean from migrating landward.

Hardened Structures protect properties But DESTROY Beaches.

Monday, April 6
Patient Man

cpcandy, spot on. Sea walls don't just destroy the beach where they're built they destroy their neighboring communities as well. While we're at it let's get rid of hurricane barriers. What do people think happens to the property on the seaward side of the closed barrier?

Tuesday, April 7